2023 Godward Life Panel

Godward Life Conference | Minneapolis

Brian Tabb: I’m going to start off with a question for Pastor John. You wrote a book on Foundations for Lifelong Learning. In your talk, you mentioned something that may have surprised some people here, that you had new insights into this text in the Gospel of Matthew, which you wrote your PhD on, have taught, and have read for countless years. You said, “I saw this text totally new this week.” Share with us a little bit more about how that happens, that kind of new learning, even as somebody who has walked with the Lord for all these years, to offer some encouragement for this group — whether they’re near the beginning of their Christian life or advanced — to not settle for old insights, but keep going, keep pressing deeper into God’s Word.

John Piper: Well, it’s a no-brainer to believe and to say that the Bible, in every text, is inexhaustible. There is always more light to break forth, as the old Puritans used to say. There are angles, connections, implications, and roots that you haven’t seen. That’s the basic assumption. I’m cursed and blessed by being regularly perplexed. It’s a curse because I think it damps, at times, my praise. It’s hard to praise when you’re flabbergasted about the meaning of a text. I don’t like having praise to be a problem. I think we’re made to praise. Answering questions is a means to the end. It’s not the end. It’s just a necessary evil, and would that we could all see things at a flash.

That’s the way I am. I see problems everywhere. Being a lover of the inerrancy of the Bible, I know those problems are always my fault. They’re not God’s fault and not Jesus’s fault. There’s no fault in God, no fault in Jesus, and no fault in the Scriptures. There’s a fault in me. Some of my limitations are not faulty. I’m a finite person; that’s not a fault. But I am a sinner and I am culturally biased. I’ve got family issues, and there are all kinds of reasons why I would see things wrongly, so it’s both a curse and I think it’s also a great blessing.

My wife deals with this more than anybody. I’m just always a critical person about everything I read. She hates it when I go, “Ugh.” I’m reading something, reading the news, and I say, “Ugh!” She doesn’t want to hear this. She says, “Be positive, Johnny,” but she knows, as I do and others do, that it has produced great fruit for me to be troubled. God has opened my eyes to see many things I would not have otherwise seen, and I think the practical payoff of your question would be that at 77, I’m working my way through 2 Corinthians in Look at the Book. I’m creating episodes for Look at the Book by working through 2 Corinthians.

On my blitz that I just finished, I worked through 1 Corinthians 7–16. I saw new things every day, because I put Biblearc on one screen and Logos on the other screen. Email sits quietly over here on the other screen. I have my Wacom tablet on my desk, where I do my doodling, and I just look at the Book all day long. That’s all I do is look at the Book.

I arc a paragraph, and in arcing it, I have 10 questions. How does that relate to that? What’s the meaning of that? How did he use that? How does that relate back to chapter 7? Now, what would you do if you had 10 questions as you read a paragraph? The only thing I know to do is get out a piece of paper, take a pencil, and write them down. As you write them down, possible answers come to your mind, and you jot down the possible answer. As soon as you jot down the possible answer, other ideas come to your mind, and that little piece of paper becomes gold. It’s your discovery. Okay, I’ve got to stop. That’s enough.

Tabb: That’s great.

Piper: Thank you for asking.

Tabb: I think that in a few of the sessions, we’ve talked about typology or patterns. I think it would be helpful to just give a little bit more clarity, a little bit more help, especially in distinguishing between the sorts of patterns that the biblical authors themselves are drawing attention to or wanting us to see, and those that might maybe tell us more about our own creativity than about what the biblical writers had in mind. What sort of guidance would you give us as we try to distinguish between clear examples of biblical typology or more tenuous connections, and especially those that might be somewhere in between? We’ll start with Joshua, and then if others want to chime in on that as well, they can.

Joshua Greever: I remember, when I was an MDiv student, we would have debates amongst ourselves about whether such and such a person in the Old Testament was a type of Christ. These are the sorts of debates that seminarians will have, you know? One takeaway that I got from all of those discussions was this: to the degree to which the biblical text makes those connections for us, to that same degree we can be certain that it is a type of Christ.

Here I’m thinking of individual persons in the Old Testament but also major events in the Old Testament and major institutions of the Old Testament. Those are your three categories: major persons, major events, and major institutions of the Old Testament. To the degree in which later Old Testament writers pick those things up and comment on them, and then, of course, New Testament writers, we can make connections. To what degree do the New Testament writers actually draw those connections for us?

Sometimes scholars can be quite imaginative and creative in ways that the text doesn’t really point us in, so I think one safeguard is to go where the text takes you. What the text says, let’s say what that says, and if the text doesn’t quite draw it out for us maybe as we would have expected it to, then let’s be a little cautious. Maybe there’s a suggestion there, but let’s be cautious. That’s my first explanation for that.

David Mathis: Would you distinguish between commentators being imaginative and preachers being imaginative?

Greever: Maybe you could give me an example of what you’re thinking of. I think both can be quite imaginative.

Piper: There must be something behind that question.

Mathis: Well, I mean whether you might encourage one to be more or less imaginative, depending on what particular task they’re doing. If you are writing a commentary, I think you might want to limit those connections to particular grammatical markers or syntax or something that’s demonstrably in the text. But as a preacher, with your half-hour slot, and the possibility for making theological connections, I think I may encourage preachers to lean in more to those conceptual connections, while not pretending they’re demonstrably in the text. I think, the ones that are in the text, point them out and make the connections, but also that there would be encouragement for preachers to make conceptual, topical, theological links to Jesus in seeking to preach to the church in the context of worship. Thoughts on that?

Greever: I think good preaching not only says what the text says, but shows the people how the biblical author arrived at that conclusion. In other words, preachers should be following the logic of the biblical author, because we want to understand how to read our Bibles better when we regularly sit under the preaching of the Word. So I agree. I think, if we come across a text that is suggesting connections, maybe it’s an Old Testament text that’s suggesting connections to Christ, then I think the preacher would want to draw those connections out for the sake of greater faith, hope, and love.

Piper: But when you say “draw them out,” or you say “draw attention to conceptual connections,” do you mean that you can get from those connections a “Thus saith the Lord”?

Mathis: No.

Piper: That’s important, because my principle is, which agrees with that, to the degree that your audience is perplexed at how you saw what you saw, you lose authority. Therefore, I don’t encourage pastors to lean in unless they say it really carefully. I kind of tell them to lean away. In other words, I want them to find their meaning right there in the text or if, like in the one I just preached on, he’s quoting something back there, then we have to go back there to see what’s really there.

Maybe you have in mind Spurgeon. I’m listening to his autobiography right now. Spurgeon couldn’t open his mouth without quoting the Bible. Prick him; he bleeds Bibline. But the way he used the Bible was varied. He’d be walking down the street and see a dog and quote a psalm about a dog. “The dogs will not say to Israel . . .” What is that? That’s just a Bible-saturated person speaking Bible over dogs and sidewalks. That, to me, is a coloring of your sermon, but man, I so much want to blow people away with what is mandated as truth. It’s true.

I really think Jesus is God. That’s not a guess. I really think he’s a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek, an eternal sacrifice. I mean, there are so many absolute certainties in the Bible, thousands of them, that are glorious, breathtaking, and jaw-dropping. Why would we want to speculate? Just one more thing. You can see how skeptical I am about typology.

I was at TGC last week, and those speakers were pretty creative in some ways, and they were all good. They’re all good. However, one of them was drawing some patterns and connections. I was sitting there thinking, Maybe. Now, “maybe” is not good when you’re responding to preaching. You don’t want to think, “Maybe the pastor has something.” You’re going to preach every weekend. You don’t want people saying, “Maybe he’s got something there.” What good is that? I said something to somebody afterwards, wondering whether they felt similar. One guy said something to me. I like him so much because he speaks my language. He said, “Yeah, isn’t it amazing when guys find things in the Bible and God says, ‘Wow’?” I love it.

Tabb: Well, let’s press in a little bit different direction, especially thinking about some of the practical implications about reflecting on the life of David, the joy of the servant king. Maybe we’ll start with David Mathis, fittingly. What lessons do you think David’s life has to offer us, in terms of servant-leadership? He’s obviously the King of Israel, but just walking with the Lord and that balance of strength and gentleness. What help do you think we could have in that category of servant-leadership?

Mathis: That’s good. It is a recent question whether we should use the term servant-leadership anymore. I think this would not have been even asked 20 years ago or 10 years ago. Everyone just assumed, servant-leader, of course, absolutely, servant-leader.

I think it’s a fair question to ask, and I think I would defend its use. It’s a helpful question to ask, because we can clarify in what sense we mean it. If servant-leader means that the leader empties himself of his post, abdicates his role, empties himself of his power and ability that could be used to help people, and he basically adopts the whims and demands and requirements of others, then we don’t do that. That’s not what leaders do. Leaders don’t cower to the demands or requirements or whims of people when they think they know what’s best for themselves at the moment.

But if servant-leader means that the position of leadership, its posts, its abilities, its authority, is used for the good of others rather than to take advantage of others so that there’s a service of their good, whether they’re seeing it or not, then it’s good. We’re defining their good on God’s terms, not on their own terms. To serve them in the nature of the work, that’s the essence of Christian leadership.

That’s what Paul would call being workers for the joy of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:24). It’s not that the Corinthians are making certain demands and Paul empties himself of his power and cowers to their demands, but on God’s terms, Paul has thoughts and ideas for what’s best for them in Christ, and he makes it for their joy. This is the Christian Hedonistic point, and it’s so helpful in this. Servant-leadership doesn’t only pursue the good of others and merely crucify self, but crucifies sin in me, the leader, and pursues a better joy than what 1 Peter calls “shameful gain” (1 Peter 5:2).

There’s a kind of shameful gain in leadership that you should be ashamed of. You’re pursuing a certain gain that is private comforts, pleasures, and personal gain to the loss of the people, or for David, personal gain to the loss of the nation. That would be a shameful gain. But there is a gain that’s without shame, a gain for the leader that’s commensurate with leading the people well and for their good. On God’s terms, the good leader looks and sees their good, their joy, and makes it his joy — which is a better joy than private joy — to work for their joy. That would be, I think, a kind of servant-leadership worth defending.

If you want a text for that, a model of that in Jesus, if we’re talking in terms of emptying, that’s Philippians 2, right? He emptied himself. He did not empty himself of divinity, of divine power, but emptied himself of the prerogative to not come and get messy in a sinful work, and have sinners act on him to crucify him. He emptied himself of that prerogative, so that he might serve and take his joy in the joy of his people. The emptying is not an emptying of his ability and leadership and post, but it’s a taking it upon himself to do good to others and seek their joy. I would defend servant-leadership on those terms.

Tabb: I think if we had a fifth session, I wonder if the fifth session would be on David, the friend? For example, his friendship with Jonathan is one of the more developed masculine relationships that you see in the Old Testament. You also have some really painful friendship examples of betrayal and that sort of thing within David’s life. I’m wondering if any of you would like to speak to reflections on what we might glean from David’s friendship with Jonathan, his experience of betrayal and loss interpersonally, and even just how that might connect with your own experience of life in ministry.

Greever: I’m happy to get us started, but I want to hear from you guys, too. It did strike me in my study of 1 Samuel how the kind of friendship between David and Jonathan that’s worth emulating is clearly not a mercenary friendship. That’s so clearly the case from Jonathan’s perspective, because from Jonathan’s perspective he doesn’t gain at all, from a worldly point of view, in handing over his weaponry, his armor, his robe, and saying, “I’m happy for you to be king, not me.” There’s clearly not a mercenary kind of sense here of friendship.

I think that’s worth reflecting on in our own friendships. Why do we want to befriend that person? Well, the answer is not so that they can scratch my back and make much of me in the world, so that everyone thinks I’m amazing because they’re connected to me, or something like that. That’s my first thought. It’s just kind of amazing how Jonathan is so willing to give up what would have been his throne. I’m curious to see what you guys would like to add to that remarkable friendship.

Mathis: I want to know more about Jonathan. Put that on the list of questions to ask in heaven. I want to know more about his character, his humility. As you said last night, as you put those forward — Jonathan strengthened his hand in God and then David strengthened himself in Yahweh, in that order — it made me think, does Jonathan excel David in spiritual maturity? Maybe not, maybe it’s totally mutual, but is David learning a spiritual maturity there, not just through the wilderness, but through Jonathan?

Then, very practically, I loved the moments where you lingered over strengthening his hand in God. That is so good for meditation, for application. It brings Hebrews 10:24 to mind, which says, “Provoke each other to love and good deeds.” It’s about knowing someone well enough that you don’t just provoke them as general humanity, but you’re close to them. You know what pushes their buttons, in good ways, and you provoke that person, not to anger, but you provoke them to love and good deeds. I’m assuming that’s what David received from Jonathan in that context.

Greever: I think that’s powerful, because in our world, friendship is often cloaked as simply, “I’m going to affirm you,” right? That’s what friendship is, and if you don’t affirm me, you’re not my friend. This happens all the time. But that’s not the way Jonathan is toward David. He tells him the truth. Now, he does affirm him, that is true. So, affirmation is not a problem.

But the nature of friendship is more than just simply, “I’m going to affirm you for whatever you think.” If that were the case, it would’ve sounded something like, “Don’t worry, David. You’re going to be fine, because you’ve got what it takes within you. Just believe in yourself. Just be strong for who you are, and it’ll turn out well in the end, and you be you.” That kind of a thing. That’s not at all the way it comes out. He strengthened his hand in God. I think there’s a definite difference between that and the way we couch friendship today as simply affirming someone.

Mathis: There are connections here to the previous question. If you’re talking about servant-leadership or relationships in which you are letting God define the terms of what’s good, there may be encouraging words to speak and genuinely affirm things. Other things need to be exposed, and we must do that.

I love what it says: He “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). This was a Godward strengthening. That opens up possibilities of particular texts to quote in a certain moment. You might express a truth stronger or softer depending on knowing that brother, his life, and that particular moment in his life, and doing that in a Godward way. It’s not strengthening his hand in himself. It’s not that. It’s strengthening his hand in God.

Tabb: Let’s stay with that. Can any of you think of an example where another friend in the Lord has strengthened your hand in God, has had that Jonathan role at a particular moment in your life and ministry to help you keep going? Anybody have one to share?

Kenny Stokes: I’ll tell you one from John Piper to me. That’s probably why it feels awkward. When I was called by God, confirmed by my wife and the elders in the congregation to take this role here at Bethlehem 25 years ago, and then again more recently. This is my seventh job at Bethlehem. John Piper came up to me after my seventh appointment and said, “Kenny, the good hand of the Lord is upon you.” I don’t know if you remember saying that. But there was a word, and it was very encouraging, very Godward, very confirming, very contextual, and I was personally strengthened.

Mathis: Seeing you sitting here, Kenny, reminds me of the time you and John and I were tag-teaming 1 Thessalonians in this room on Wednesday nights. This was probably 15 years ago. I came in and wanted to do the first session really Socratic. There were dozens of people, and I came in just asking all sorts of questions. I was asking questions, but I did it too much, so I leaned too far into asking questions, at least pedagogically as a teacher.

John sent me this email the next day. It was 1,500 to 1,800 words. He was very gracious. He handled me very graciously, and he was also very clear, “We can do better.” At the time, I was helping him with his calendar. I thought, “John Piper doesn’t have time for 1,800 words to me and Kenny about how we can do better on Wednesday nights.”

Stokes: You got 1,800, I got nine.

Mathis: Yours was just affirming. He was exercising Sam Crabtree’s affirmation ratio. But it was so helpful. That brings to mind another email I got not too long ago. I sent John an article I had worked on. I just wanted him to see it before I moved it on in the editorial process. He wrote back. I remember this exact quote. He said, “This bears the marks of haste.” You know what? You’ve encouraged me enough over the years, I felt loved in that. I thought, “I’m so glad I didn’t push this on to our publication. I need to go back to the desk and do this better. I don’t want to bear the marks of haste in a public article.” So, thank you.

Piper: You’re welcome.

Tabb: Let’s think more about another relationship that David had with Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. This is a fascinating character in the Samuel narrative, and we see David’s surprising treatment of Mephibosheth. Maybe we could start with you, David, and then others can jump in on what we see there. What lessons do we glean from how he treats Jonathan’s son, who would have then been in the line of Saul, whose throne David takes over?

Mathis: The way it begins in 2 Samuel 9 is that David, having made all these military victories in 2 Samuel 8, is victorious wherever he goes. It’s one thing after another. David is a great military leader. You get to chapter 9 and the kingdom is established. He’s successful, victorious, triumphant, and he takes the initiative in 2 Samuel 9:1 to say, “Is there someone from the house of Saul that I can show kindness to for Jonathan’s sake?”

This is amazing. This is not like Joab. This is not the kind of question that comes out of Joab, saying, “How can I show kindness?” The reason it’s fresh is that I wanted so badly for this to be in the talk yesterday morning, and this is one of the things I had to cut because I didn’t want you to be late for your workshops. But there is a parallel here from Psalm 18:35, where David says, “[God’s] gentleness made me great.” God’s gentleness came to David and took root in him, and David was gentle with others.

Here in 2 Samuel 9:3, he says that he wants to show him “the kindness of God.” He’s not just showing him the kindness of David. He’s showing him the kindness of God. God has been kind to David, which has changed David, taken root in David, and he wants to show God’s kindness to Mephibosheth, to someone from Saul’s house. Even though 10 years ago Saul came after him and tried to kill him, he wants to show kindness to Saul’s house.

I do wonder, as someone who’s lived with this name (David) for more than 40 years, who is said to be a man after God’s own heart in Acts 13:22. It didn’t work with Saul. We’re looking for a man after God’s own heart. I wonder if it means that when it says he is a man after God’s own heart. Acts 13:22 says, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.”

I don’t think that means that David merely does God’s will — that God has a heart, it manifests in a will, David hears the will, and he just does the will. I don’t think that’s all that’s at play, but this: that God has a heart, a kind of heart that manifests a will, and David has that kind of heart. The reason he does God’s will is he does it from the heart. He doesn’t just check the boxes and do what God commands. He has come to have God’s own heart, and I think Psalm 18:35 points to gentleness as an aspect of that heart. Second Samuel 9 points to kindness, that he wants to show kindness.

In Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, we see the kind of heart of the father that goes out to his son. He wants to run to greet him. That kind of heart has come to be in David as well. David has experienced that grace from God, and he wants to extend grace in the appropriate places. He’s the leader of Israel. He can’t just go around distributing grace to the Philistines, and grace to the Edomites. He has to fulfill his role as king, and he’s on the lookout for ways that he can extend God’s grace, God’s kindness, in fitting circumstances that don’t compromise the good of the nation, but show God’s kindness to someone in Saul’s house.

Greever: If I can push us toward Jesus, I think Jesus does that, too, climactically, right? I’m thinking there is a connection. I mean, you mentioned the parable of the prodigal son, but you know there’s that one text in Isaiah 55:3 that talks about “the kindnesses of David.” It’s plural there, right? Sometimes it’s translated as the steadfast love or acts of David or something, which is in Acts 13, right? The man after God’s own heart, I think, shows up as this. It is kindness, but it’s steadfast kindnesses, so it is kindness that God has promised and he is faithful to keep, which Jesus does climatically as the man after God’s own heart.

Piper: Yep, yep.

Mathis: I remember when you went to Cambridge, to Tyndale House, you did a commencement address for the TBI guys, now BCS guys, where you talked about how a dead dog loves a king. Do you remember that?

Piper: I remember the title.

Mathis: It was about Mephibosheth. There’s another part of the Mephibosheth story at the other end.

Piper: Two very different impacts of that story on me other than what has been said is, number one, when he comes back, Mephibosheth, he wants to give him what he deserves. He says, “I don’t need anything. You’re back. I don’t care about inheritance. You’re back.” I just thought, I want to love Jesus like that. I want to love my king that way. Just give me a little teeny little corner in heaven, just a little teeny shack if you’re there.

Number two, if you’re a pastor or a leader in any way, one of the hardest things for me, being as indecisive as I can be, is that you’re confronted with so many decisions that look like 60-40 decisions. I don’t know how to do outreach. I don’t know how to help the homeless. I don’t know how to do pastoral care. I don’t know if we should hire a new person. I don’t know if we should buy the property. I don’t know. Ah, indecisiveness.

David comes back, and Ziba has lied about Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth says, “I didn’t betray you. He’s lying.” David doesn’t know what’s true. He’s a king. He’s got a kingdom to run. He can’t do research on this. What does he do? He says, “Half for you, Ziba, and half for Mephibosheth.” That was an unjust decision. Ziba didn’t deserve a thing. He should’ve been shot, which he eventually was, I think. Ziba was a bad character, and Mephibosheth was gold. But David splits it 50-50 because he has work to do.

As a pastor, I feel like I had to make decisions. I cannot just dink around here. We’ve got a big church, and things have to get done. Somebody’s got to stop the buck. Kenny is my pastor now, right here, and he has to do this. He can get as much input as he wants, but he has to make decisions. That little story right there was very liberating for me.

Tabb: Let’s go to the end of your talk, Pastor Kenny. You closed with powerful encouragement for those who are stuck in David’s situation. You said, “May the joy of the Lord pull you out of it.” I’m just wondering if you can pull on that thread a little bit. What would that look like, practically, for the joy of the Lord to get somebody unstuck from serious sin? And I think we can also add to that: How might the joy of the Lord help to keep us out of such situations, as well?

Stokes: I said that because, with the assignment of David’s sin with Bathsheba, I not only had 2 Samuel 11–12, but I also had Psalm 51 and Psalm 32, which you made the point that the text in 2 Samuel doesn’t mention joy. So, how come I kind of hung it all on joy? It’s because we get in David’s head in Psalm 51, which he wrote when he confessed to Nathan. Then, I think we get in David’s head again in Psalm 32, which I’m guessing he wrote after the event, just enjoying, celebrating, the blessedness of forgiven sin.

The journey out of preventing sin, causing David to run downstairs and sing psalms instead of continuing to look at Bathsheba, is the fight for joy in God, just like the thing that would keep him causes him to stop this concealment. I mean, it was really ugly when I reviewed that stuff. I didn’t remember it being so ugly. David says, “Here, I have a message for you to give to your commander. You give it to him.” And it says, “Kill him.” I just thought that was really ugly. What keeps you from that? It’s the joy in the Lord, that you would enjoy Jesus more than your concealment.

Then, likewise with the confession. Read those two Psalms. I mean, David is in misery with his sin. He’s in misery concealing. His bones are getting crushed and probably eight times in those two psalms, he’s moving out of that, into confession, into forgiveness, into the grace of God by joy. I just saw this tractor beam of joy in the Lord, to pull us out of our sin and, when we’re in our sin, to pull us back to Jesus and, preventatively, to keep us from our sin. I just love the way the three lenses kind of went together: the narrative, the personal confession, and then his epilogue, his reflections on the blessedness of forgiven sin. I don’t know if that answers your question.

Tabb: Anybody want to add to that?

Piper: It is profoundly illuminating to realize nobody sins out of duty. There’s only one reason people sin: it’s going to feel good. Life is going to get better. It’s a lie. The feeling good is true, but the lie is life is going to go better because you’ve chosen this path. If that’s true, if pleasure and being drawn out with desire, not duty, is what is happening — as if someone thinks you have to get up in the morning and sin today because it’s your duty to sin — then that’s why this works. There’s only one way to fight desire, and that’s with a superior desire. I mean, you can try to fight desire with duty. It’ll last a while, like, “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t. I can’t. Stop.” That just won’t last for a lifetime. It won’t.

I was talking to a missionary — we all know who this is — who went to 18 prostitutes, and then left the mission and left his wife. I sat down with him, and I said, “What happened? What happened? You were so effective. You were a good missionary. What in the world happened?” Here’s what he said. He said, “It just got too hard to fight anymore.” He was saying, “I can’t do this. I shouldn’t do this. I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t,” and there needed to be an explosive joy, the expulsive power of a new affection, pushing the need for prostitutes out of his heart. Push them out. Your job in life is to be happier with Jesus than with a prostitute, happier with Jesus than with pornography, happier with Jesus than with money. That’s the battle.

That’s what we do here. Serious joy is that. Christian Hedonism is that. You will fail in the Christian life if you don’t realize that sin is driven by desire for pleasure, and Jesus provides a superior pleasure. If you don’t feel that, you’ve got work to do. That’s the war. Fight for joy. So, amen to what Kenny said.

Tabb: David, do you want to double-click on anything related to masculine strength and gentleness and what that looks like practically? Maybe think of a situation where it maybe needs a little bit more strength or a little bit more gentleness or just the right combination, the multidimensional approach.

Mathis: I think one thing I could clarify is that we’re prone to go to these extremes, like, “Oh, I need to always be this strong man with backbone, and never give ground,” or you always act with grace and parent with grace and have gentleness and kindness nonstop. The call is for wisdom. You’re being invited into the life of wisdom in the life of David. If you’ve developed a concept that leadership is only strength, then David is a corrective. If you’ve developed a concept that leadership is only kindness, and never battles against the Philistines, then David is a corrective.

These two things are mingling all the time, in terms of moments to manifest particular backbone in reading the moment, knowing this is what’s needed. A fool needs to be answered according to his folly at this moment. Other times, the fool should not be answered according to his folly, but with a kind of kindness or a cushioning or a gentleness or a patience, a manifestation of humility.

Being a parent has helped tremendously with this, in terms of having people in my house where I don’t just have interaction with them and then they go away, but we still live under the same roof. This is not an answer. It’s a wisdom call for parents. Wisdom is needed, and you don’t respond the same way every time. If you always respond with strength, you crush them. If you always respond with kindness or always respond with grace, if that’s the lead note with no strength, then you get them off in the wrong direction and teach them wrong things about the world.

What we need as parents, and what we need as leaders, is to have the backbone, to have strong arms, and know those moments when you need to have the gentle hand, the gentle touch. I think a very helpful thing to think about is going deeper into the characters of Joab and David, which are mixed characters. Joshua talked last night about David being mixed. Joab’s mixed, too. I mean, that’s a glorious moment in 2 Samuel 10, where Joab and Abishai are back-to-back, and he says, “I’ll take the Ammonites; you take the Syrians. I’ll help you out. Do this for the glory of God.” I mean, that’s their glory moment.

We shouldn’t think of Joab as all negative, and Abishai seems more righteous to me than Joab, but it’s still, “Sons of Zeruiah, what do I have to do with you?” But here’s an insight to Joab’s character. Joab acts from personal offense when he takes out Abner. There are probably two things at play there in taking out Abner. One, that’s Saul’s commander, and Joab too was a commander. David was going to have to choose between two commanders, and Joab was looking laterally at another commander, thinking, “That guy could take my spot. It would be nice to knock him off.” Also, he knew he killed his brother, Asahel, in battle. Now, the war is over, but Joab takes Abner out for revenge.

There’s this personal offense. There’s a concern about his personal standing, perhaps, in taking out Abner, and he does the same with Amasa. Joab has a kind of personal focus, a selfishness, a nursing of personal offenses and wanting revenge. David is the opposite of that. I mean, Shimei is throwing stones at him and cursing him, and Abishai is ready to just go take his head off, which might actually be a righteous action.

If you’re Abishai, you’re one of the mighty men. David shouldn’t say that, but it might be Abishai’s role to say, “Hey, king, should I take his head off?” That might’ve been a good thing. Then it’s David’s role to say, “No, the Lord has told him to curse me for my iniquity, because of what Nathan said. And I am trusting God to be gracious to me. Don’t take Shimei out.” Then, when he comes back, he doesn’t take him out either, but he promises, “As long as I’m king, you’re good.”

David does not take personal vengeance. He doesn’t nurse and harbor personal offense like Joab does. Joab’s actions that we see as violent, as out of place, as this manifestation of raw, manly strength without the appropriate gentleness, having a lot of personal focus, a lot of self-focus; whereas, David has a bigger heart. He includes in his joy the joy of his kingdom, the joy of others, and is able to make a wide-hearted, deeper-joy decision by getting beyond self-focus and not nursing those personal offenses.

Tabb: That’s great. Okay, final question. I’m happy for any of you to answer this. How does the life of David help you to go Godward?

Piper: He wrote a lot of psalms. I love the Psalms. They’re Godward. That’s my short answer.

Tabb: The sweet psalmist of Israel.

Piper: That’s my wife’s favorite book in the Bible. I think she’s almost right.

Mathis: Romans?

Piper: Probably. I’ve analyzed why that is for her and so many people. In Romans, you have to do a lot of thinking to get to the right application. But with the Psalms, your heart is right out there. His heart is just flowing, and that’s a wonderful thing. We need the Psalms so desperately to model an affectional relationship with God. In Romans, you have to work at it.

Greever: I think David helps me to go Godward inasmuch as he typifies Christ. Like I tried to show, I am most helped to go Godward when I refresh my soul in the gospel and what God has done for me in Christ. David helps me remember what God has done for me in Christ, both by showing those similarities between David and Jesus, but also the dissimilarities.

For instance, I didn’t mention this last night, but David did the madman routine, you know, in Gath. I can’t imagine Jesus doing that. Can you imagine Jesus, in front of Pontius Pilate, deciding the only way out right now is to pretend to be a madman? Jesus would never do the madman routine, and that just shows that Jesus is so much better than this guy who was trying to get one step ahead of Saul in the Old Testament.

I think, when I read 1 Samuel, Jesus just shines. Jesus is amazing when I read 1 Samuel, not only because of those positive examples, wherein David prefigures Christ, but also because he’s so much better than what this character is in the narrative. Inasmuch as I see that indirect route, I’m reminded of God’s kindness toward me in the Greater David.

Mathis: There is an extraordinary role that David has in Scripture. I mean, for Jesus to be the Son of David is remarkable. All the pointers, all the types, the similarities, the dissimilarities — he is pointing to Jesus more than anyone else in the Old Testament. I mean, it’s a remarkable thing. Study David’s life, and I think you get more than Moses, Abraham, and the whole list of the Old Testament celebrities.

I hesitate to say this, because my name is David. Over the years, it’s been difficult to fully appreciate David because the name is such an old hat to me. In having this conference theme and approaching it and getting ready for it, it was so helpful to see what a massive role he has in Jesus being the Son of David. So, objectively and externally, he points to Jesus, typifies Jesus, and that’s where we look to feed the joy, as we talked about.

Then, we don’t have anyone else’s inner heart laid out before God in as much detail as we have with David’s. This relates to the subjective element you’re talking about, John. He says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11), and, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1), and, “Your steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3).

The Christian Hedonistic texts that we love, one after another, are an expression of David’s heart for God, the God whom we know so far more now because of the one David typified in Jesus. There’s the external pointing to Jesus, and then there’s seeing all the internal machinations that are now all the greater because Jesus has come, because of David.

Stokes: I’d probably bounce right off of that, in part, from what I just stuck my head into the last two or three weeks. Not only does David point us to our all-satisfying God, to the enoughness of God himself for us and all that God promises to be for us in Jesus, to Jesus as our joy, to our hope in him over and over again, but then also the misery of when he’s separate from God. Those are the sin passages, where he says things like, “Your hand was heavy upon me” (Psalm 32:4).

Somehow, I feel like I want to get in line to run the race behind David. I want to go for the joy, and when I drift off the path, I want to go for the joy. When I drift off the path, I want the misery that David articulates to get back on the path and enjoy fellowship with God and his Son through the forgiveness that’s ours in Christ. We have an advocate that brings us back, and David just models that and speaks it in that little collection. I thoroughly enjoyed Psalm 51, Psalm 32, and the narrative. Joy is laced all the way through the horrible narrative, and it’s pulling him through.